She was born Greta Lovisa Gustafson in Stockholm on this day in 1905. She was lured to Hollywood by Louis B Mayer, who was impressed with her work in the Swedish film- Gösta Berlings Saga, which was directed by her mentor, the flambouantly gay- Mauritz Stiller, who gave her the name Greta Garbo.
She knew how to make an exit. After 20 years in films & one of the world’s biggest stars ever, she walked away from acting & public life when she was just 36. She lived in NYC in virtual seclusion for 50 years, refusing all interviews & photographs, & emerging from her apartment only when protected from public view by big hats & sunglasses.
She made 14 silent films, with a face that was perfect for the expressions of the style of acting & for black & white films (she never made a color film). She made the transition to talkies, a move that ruined many screen careers, with no problem at all. Garbo’s beautiful husky, accented voice was a compliment to her unworldly beauty & she gave more complex performances in her talking films.
She played a world weary, washed-up ballerina in Grand Hotel at 26 years old. She gave what I think is her best performance, charming, funny & full of self parody, in Ninotchka. She had an affair with co-star John Gilbert, but left him at the alter on their wedding day. Garbo had affairs with women also, including well-known liasons with actress Louise Brooks, writer Mercedes de Acosta, & with Marlene Dietrich. She was very close friends with 2 gay men- Cecil Beaton & George Cukor.
Garbo pointed out that character in Grand Hotel never uttered the famous- “I want to be alone”, but rather- “I want to be let alone”… a big difference & seemingly true for her life off screen as well.
"The story of my life is about back entrances, side doors, secret elevators & other ways of getting in & out of places so that people won't bother me”